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Andrew Gee slammed Labor for cutting $66 million from rural MRI scans. There's just one problem...

October 27, 2022


By Peter Holmes


Some days in journalism you feel as if you’ve entered Bizarro World, where left is right, up is down and black is white. Wednesday was one such day.


Early on Wednesday afternoon our local federal MP Andrew Gee came out with all guns blazing as he accused the Labor government of cutting $66 million in funding for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in rural, regional and remote Australia in Tuesday night’s Federal Budget.



The only problem - and it was a rather large one - was that Labor had done nothing of the sort.


In fact, not only had it not cut the $66 million, it had added another $12.4 million on top.

The block headline for Gee’s press release read: LABOR CUTS MEDICARE FUNDED MRI SCANS FOR THE BUSH AFFECTING MRI SCANS FOR LITHGOW, BATHURST, MUDGEE


“Shadow Minister for Regional Health Andrew Gee has called out the Federal Government for cutting Medicare funded Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans for country communities in Tuesday night’s budget,” the statement began.



Gee’s release went on to explain that in a mini-budget in March of this year - two months before it was voted out - the Coalition had allocated $66 million for Medicare funded MRI scans for patients across rural, regional and remote Australia.


Andrew Gee said earlier this year that the Coalition had originally removed the funding from its own March budget, but had it reinstated after "I fought to get it put back in".



Gee's efforts in this regard are worthy of praise, but it doesn't change the fact that in his Wednesday statement he falsely claimed Labor had cut the $66 million program - due to start next week - and replaced it with one worth just $12.4 million.

He went on to accuse the Albanese Labor government of hypocrisy: “There’s been a lot of high and mighty talk from the government about integrity in funding, so how could it be that the Federal Government is snatching away Medicare funded MRI scans from country areas …”

After receiving Gee’s statement, The Orange News Examiner set about contacting people who work in medicine and, specifically, medical diagnostic imaging, to ask how Labor’s $66 million cut would impact people in Orange and other regional, rural or remote areas.



I expected that I'd be met with outrage, and tales of how people's lives might be put at risk if they can't afford an MRI.



Well, I was met with outrage, but for a different reason entirely.

I was told in no uncertain terms that no such cuts had been made by Labor. There was a sense of disbelief that this incorrect medical information was being spread.

One industry source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that if Labor had cut the $66 million MRI investment, there would be a “line item” in the Federal Budget showing it had been removed. There was no such line item, they said, because the funding hadn’t been cut.

The Orange News Examiner has been told that medical diagnostic image providers have been in discussions with federal health minister Mark Butler about the $66 million rollout for a number of months, and that it will be introduced as expected next week.



The Department of Health and Aged Care document outlining the changes in September.

Furthermore, the federal Department of Health and Aged Care issued guidelines for the rollout of the extra money on September 19, 2022.





Under the heading "Changes to eligibility for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment from 1 November 2022" it had a question and answer section.


It included the following:


"Why are the changes being made?

Enabling Medicare funding for services performed on MRI machines ... will improve regional, rural and remote patient access to timely and affordable MRI services closer to home."

The Orange News Examiner has been told that medical diagnostic imaging industry has invested tens of millions of dollars in new medical imaging equipment ahead of the November 1 expansion of services.

In response to our questions, the office of the assistant health minister Emma McBride said the $66 million was allocated in the previous budget by the Coalition and remained unchanged by Labor.


“The Albanese government is determined to deliver quality, affordable healthcare for all Australians, wherever they live,” McBride told The Orange News Examiner.


“That’s why we’ve included an additional $12.4 million in our first Federal Budget for three new Medicare-funded MRI licences in regional communities. This means more people will be able to access life-saving medical scans, close to home.

“Labor is the party that built Medicare and only Labor will protect it for the future.”

Baffled as to why Gee had incorrectly slammed Labor for a massive cut to regional health funding, I sought clarification from his office.

On Wednesday night Gee released another statement.


“If the government is now going to honour our policy of Medicare-funded MRI scans for the bush, that’s good news - but it’s a shame that it took a press release from me and an enquiry from a journalist to get a public statement on the issue,” Gee said.



“The reality is that the government has been in power for five months, and the public is being kept in the dark on the future of key projects and initiatives in our region.

“I’m proud that my press release has prompted some answers. Holding the government to account is what the Opposition is supposed to do.”

Gee’s argument seems to be that Labor was somehow obliged to tell him of its plans ahead of budget night, and that if it didn’t then it automatically meant a program would be axed.




Such thinking defies all logic, for no government - Labor or Coalition - releases all the information before they deliver the Federal Budget. That is the very reason there is a Federal Budget - to reveal spending programs for coming years.


And no government - Labor or Coalition - issues press releases on budget night for every one of the thousands upon thousands of projects it plans to spend money on each year.



Part of Andrew Gee's press release

From the government's Federal Budget papers, announcing the extra $12.4 million.


So why the attack?


Why not wait, check and be 100 percent sure before launching the missiles?

Which brings us back to the very beginning. Or maybe the very end. In upside-down world, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.


What is an MRI?


MRIs use "a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body", according to the Mayo Clinic.

.

"Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets. When you lie inside an MRI machine, the magnetic field temporarily realigns water molecules in your body. Radio waves cause these aligned atoms to produce faint signals, which are used to create cross-sectional MRI images — like slices in a loaf of bread."


The clinic said the MRI machine can also produce 3D images that can be viewed from different angles.

MRIs are a complex issue in Australia, and there is much confusion among the general public as to who gets them, who can refer, and how much you are charged.






Depending on who issued the referral (GP or specialist), what the MRI scan was for, and where it was conducted, an MRI could cost between nothing and $1,000, according to an industry insider.



One GP told The Orange News Examiner that while an MRI was the most advanced diagnostic tool, some patients could simply not afford to a scan.



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